NEXT means NOW – Takeaways from NEXT Conference (PBM) 2019

Last week’s NEXT Conference in Arlington, Texas (by our friends Progressive Business Media and Furniture Today) was packed with great talks and powerful take-aways to be applied within the furniture industry, especially by furniture retailers and dealers.One of the important successes of the conference was that it helped blur the lines between what many perceive to be what’s next for the industry in terms, and what is actually happening now.

From technology to business strategy and marketing to sales, the conference’s content was really designed to drive retailers through the journey of embracing the new era. The talks were much less about high level theory and more about practical solutions.

Talks ranged from pop-up stores, 3D printing, subscription models, rental furniture and also ventured further into advanced digital advertising and data platforms than any other conference before it, ultimately shining a bright light on the power these have given to furniture retailers and brands alike.

The headline sponsor, Furniture of America, set a good tone by opening up with an emotional video showing how furniture is an integral part of people’s memories.


Opening Keynote: Unlocking the Secrets of Social Media Marketing
Setting the tone for the conference, keynote speaker Brian Carter focused on showing the landscape of social media and what’s happening for brands and retailer in that space. As a marketing consultant he brought enlightening numbers and an exercise about their top 5 challenges and how to address them on the daily basis.

Some of the challenges that came up include:
– Too many platforms making social media complicated to leverage
– Converting social media activity to actual sales
– How to get metrics you can trust from a trusted ad and marketing partner
– Achieving a continuous flow of good content that engages
– Limited resources for creation, execution and management

We at Furniture Branding have found that these challenges are not new as our industry continually struggles to get upper / legacy management to stand behind the importance and impact of social media, whether organic or paid. We also understand that finding a digital native partner that also understands the ins and outs of furniture  is crucial to successfully integrating social media into an overall marketing and advertising strategy.

How to Create a Digital Selling Organization
Focusing on the sales part of the journey, professor Craig McAndrews (University of Houston) gave the audience ways to use social platforms and how to convert activity into sales through thought leadership content, digital networking and integration with diverse platforms.

McAndrews believes that brands and retailers need to establish POV, point-of-value, before selling to help the customer and their needs before actually converting into a sale. In his words, the digital customer expects your brand to be “faster, flawless and flexible.”

Majority of Gen Z purchase on Instagram without going to the company’s website.

80% of B2B buyers find their sellers instead of waiting for them to come, using their digital network to connect and establish a relationship.

Pops Ups for Fun and Profit
Elsbeth Rowaan  and Micki Rowaan, cofounders of Uniek Living — an e-commerce platforms selling Dutch furniture and accessories — found their success by taking their store out of the digital space and creating limited pop up stores that can, experiences that last from a few hours to a maximum of 3 months.

Based on the FOMO concept (fear of missing out) they developed a strong strategy and fast process to find new spaces, building up and striking down their store as needed. Remembering that the pop-up location will not last forever is a key takeaway they brought to light for other retailers that can use pop-ups as satellite locations that extend their retail footprint and grow brand awareness.

Subscriptions are Not Just for Magazines
No different than any other industry, furniture is also now seeing the subscription model growing and shaping its market as it follows new consumer behavior. Ankur Agrawal, the CEO and Founder of Inhabitr Furniture Rental created a solution through which local retailers can be a part of this shift. By providing in-store furniture rental systems and turnkey settings they are helping retailers provide solutions for short-term and long-term customers with varying budgets and living spaces. The platform allows retailers to not only give flexibility to the clientele but also liquidate inventory for seasonal pieces. At the end of the journey customers can buy the furniture or return it. Eventually they will also be able to rent preowned furniture or switch out with other customers.

The Future of Advertising: Why Data is Changing Everything

In a simple and digestible way, Marshall Gibbs of Target Data was able to translate the ecosystem between 1st party data and 3rd party data for retailers to understand their existing customers and potential prospects. In Gibb’s own words, retailers can work with three types of data, “data you have – 1st party data, the data you buy – 3rd party data and the data you can make – analyzing and crossing information to predict behavior.”

He also tapped into the development of Addressable TV and how, more than never, data is essential for brands to be able to connect with the right customer in the right moment.

Your Customer is Fractured. Put the Pieces Back Together.
Our agency not only proud to have sponsored the NEXT conference, but I, Jason Pires, the agency’s CEO and Executive Director spoke about how technology has fragmented the furniture customers’ journey and how we as advertisers, brands and retailers, can unite their journey through technology and hyper-personalization. By introducing Fragmented Frank, a 30-something consumer, I illustrated, in a playful way, what modern consumers are up to in their day to day, how they consume content and what devices they actually use now. By leveraging data, executing through advanced media platforms, and tapping into lifestyle driven content and messaging, brands and retailers can reach their audience at the right time, on the right platform and achieve the right ROI / ROAS. Some clips from my talk can be found below.

Fragmented Frank from Furniture Branding on Vimeo.

How We Made $1 Million with Instagram
Husband and wife team, Devanie and DJ of Adams & Co. created their business through instagram only. At the Conference they showed how after the recession they were able to rebuild their B2B business using the platform as its main channel. They shared three takeaways. The first takeaway being to find a face for your brand, customer wants to see people, they want to connect with people. Secondly, be authentic, your customer needs to connect with your values and what your brand actually is, always. Last but not least, as a small business they focused in one platform where they could put all their effort.

Currently Adams & Co has around 30k followers, however Devanie, the main persona of the brand, has almost 80k followers and is the major source of new business generated.

Unleashing the Power of Influencers
The marketing strategy of the moment is influencers, for a few years now everyone is talking about using influencers for your brand. Lance Paine of Brand Atelier discussed how to leverage influencers and make sure they are generating a profit. He also discussed the differences between executing small advertising programs with micro and macro influencers as well as a licensing a collection with the right influencer.

The race to the bottom seems to be slowing down and things are looking up as the industry is learning that creating a deeper and hyper-personal connection with their customer is crucial, throughout the “furniture experience.” Furniture is moving away from being a commodity as brands and retailers focus on customer lifestyles and start to embrace hyper-personalization. As a digital-native and lifestyle-centric agency this was all refreshing for us to see. We’re not only excited about what’s next after the conference, but even more about what happens now.

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